This E.T. is extra-scatological

Posted: March 18, 2011

A big fat geek kiss to the movies of Steven Spielberg and his fanboys, Paul is a mild, meandering comedy about English mates, as in buddies, who visit the American Southwest and have a close encounter with the pot-smoking, potty-mouthed extraterrestrial of the title.

Wiry Simon Pegg and beefy Nick Frost, the comic duo of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, costar as brothers in geek, Graeme and Clive. Respectively the illustrator and the author of a graphic novel, the lads are on a pilgrimage to Comic-Con in San Diego.

After rubbing shoulders with Wookies and Sith lords, the duo board an RV to visit UFO sacred sites such as Area 51, Roswell, and Devil's Tower. On their journey they are startled by E.T. in cutoffs. He wants to go home. The name of the bat-eared, computer-generated figure is Paul. He smokes like a chimney, swears like a sailor, and snarks like Seth Rogen, who supplies his voice.

Pegg and Frost penned this comedy conceived by, of, and for the fanboys. For whatever reason, it lacks the edge of their previous work. Is this because they're working with a different director? Or because it doesn't successfully transplant British humor to U.S. soil? Their script, which promises to be a tribute to the Spielbergian kind of science fiction, ends up being a spoof of same. (There is a very good reason Paul so much resembles E.T., but as it's the film's one genuinely good joke, I will not share it.)

As directed by Greg Mottola (Adventureland, Superbad), Paul provokes gentle giggles rather than explosive laughter. Prior Pegg/Frost outings were lightning-paced affairs directed by Edgar Wright, who observes the principle that comedy requires speed.

Mottola prefers a more leisurely pace. In his hands, the comedy doesn't sprint, it shambles. Because of the lethargic pace, cheeky jokes become positively jowly. And the easy lampoons of rednecks and bible thumpers beg to be called "Close Encounters of the secondhand."

The film has some consolations. Their names are Jason Bateman (as one of the men-in-black trying to find the alien in their midst) and Blythe Danner.

Warning: The R-rated Paul is not suitable for those under 14. It is crammed with gratuitous profanity that has the effect of making the movie less funny than it might have been.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl.

 

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